INDIANAPOLIS – Today Congressman Messer’s campaign was caught paying for college students to vote for him in Saturday’s Republican straw poll at the GOP Congress of Counties – a move his primary opponents called vote rigging. In emails obtained by the Indy Star, Congressman Messer’s campaign offered to pay for students’ “ticket and lodging” for the conference and also stated that “attendance at the straw poll is required.” Congressman Messer had pointed to previous straw poll wins as a sign of growing grassroots support, but today’s revelations beg the question of whether his campaign is using cash to paper over the apparent lack of enthusiasm behind his error-prone campaign.
U.S. Senate candidate Luke Messer is paying for college students to attend a state Republican party straw poll event on Saturday — a move his opponents are criticizing as vote rigging.
Emails and social media exchanges obtained by IndyStar show that Messer campaign staffers offered to cover registration and hotel costs for college students to attend the Indiana Republican Party’s Congress of Counties conference.
Messages obtained by IndyStar were sent by a Messer regional field director, a political field organizer and a campaign intern to college students.
In one message, a group of students at Ball State University are told the campaign will “be able to help out with hotel rooms if you need us to” and that “we really only need you that Saturday.”
An email to another student says, “The campaign will cover your ticket and lodging, just not gas expenses. Meals at the event will also be covered.”
A third message to students emphasizes that “attendance at the straw poll is required” and says the “campaign has taken care of your pass for the whole event and you are welcome to attend as much (or as little) of the rest of the conference as you wish.”
But Messer’s primary opponents expressed doubt about the campaign’s motivations.
Congressman Todd Rokita and former state lawmaker Mike Braun said they are not covering expenses for any of their supporters.
“It is completely disrespectful to the hardworking Republican activists of this state for Luke Messer to try to rig their straw poll,” said Rokita campaign spokesman Nathan Brand.
Braun said he was “surprised” that Messer would pay attendees’ costs “because of the optics.”
“The straw poll results should be the result of a free and open process, not people who are paid to be there,” he said. “I think that would devalue whatever benefit you try to get from doing it.”
The accusations are just the latest to fly in what has been dubbed the GOP’s nastiest Senate primary.
Michael Feldman, a spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party, suggested the drama surrounding the straw poll is indicative of apathy among the Republican base.
“Nothing speaks louder about Republican voters’ lack of enthusiasm for their leading Senate candidates like having to pay for college students to come out and vote,” he said. “Five more months is plenty of time for more mudslinging and petty moves like Congressman Messer’s to wear voters down even further.”